A few years ago, I started to help Nancy Rue with her blog for teen ladies. It’s been a fantastic thing, an unexpected blessing that has resulted in many surprising letters to me from young women asking for advice. I am always impressed by the depth of their thoughts and their honesty. I respect how they handle their struggles, and I am humbled by their trust in me.
Often, their questions have to do with friendship.
“I’m afraid of losing my friendship.” “I always thought we’d be friends forever.” “I don’t know, things just changed.”
It’s hard for me to tell them the truth–that yes, sometimes things change and what we thought would last forever doesn’t. People pull apart when their growth as individuals yanks them in different directions. Sometimes people change together, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the angst is palpable, aching with every beat our heart makes. Sometimes just knowing things aren’t the way they used to be hurts enough to make you forget how to breathe.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes doesn’t mean all the time.
Every now and then someone (me included) will say, “relationships hurt too much. I’m not going to try anymore. It’s not worth the pain.”
There’s no doubt the grieving for what doesn’t work is real. We have a tendency to think it’s all about what we did wrong, and sometimes what the other person did wrong–but most often, the truth lies not in fault and blame but in the different rates and ways in which we develop as people. I am still of the opinion that social media can be highly anti-social, that we can be lonelier watching what other people post and wondering why our lives don’t seem to measure up. There’s plenty of falseness there and I think it can often spill over into our face-to-face friendships too. Other times, a relationship stops not because it’s failed, but because the two people just aren’t in the same place anymore. It’s as simple–and as difficult–as that.
In the midst of such a time, it’s challenging to see the joy a healthy relationship brings. Yet, without the difficult times, as in so many other things, we fail to appreciate the wonderful blessings we are given every day.
I went for a walk this weekend, a beautiful country meander near fields and along the thawing lake. My friend Joëlle brought her puppy Bella along. We chatted and talked, and hit upon important topics that we hadn’t gotten around to when we were in the house with our husbands. It wasn’t a long walk but the time was both full and fulfilling. I realize that we’ve always been able to fit in the most important topics to the time we have available to us.
There was a moment at the side of the road where I stopped and said “Joëlle, if I don’t say it often enough, you are one of my dearest and most treasured friends. I love you.”
Honestly, she looked at me like I’d lost it for a moment, but I’d just had a flash of remembered pain. And she saw that. Right then, she had a flash of understanding.
Perhaps that is an important part of our friendship. There is so much peace in not having to explain things. Joëlle and I have shared many of our struggles. We support each other, and we nurture our friendship. It’s an intentional thing.
What I have learned by watching her is she always works on herself, on who she is and who she wants to become. She doesn’t try to change anyone else, yet her struggles have given her immense wisdom. Every time we are together, I leave wanting to be more like her.
Relationships always have been, and always will be complicated dynamic things because they involve complicated people. We learn, we grow, we change. We make mistakes, and others make mistakes, and then we learn and grow and change again. Sometimes we move away from each other, and that’s okay. But other times, we move towards each other, like that moment Joëlle and I shared on the walk. God gifts us with what–and who–we need, when we need it.
If we walk away from every possibility of friendship because we’re afraid of being hurt, we are also eliminating any possibility of being loved. Every relationship matters. Every one. Even the ones that hurt us.
When I think back on the friendships I’ve had in my half-century, I know I’ve been changed by each one. Those that were difficult helped me to refine my rough edges, to establish my own ideas on what is necessary and important as I seek my best self. Those that were easier have given me hope that there is, indeed, some “best” in me already.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement.